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Posts Tagged ‘Prophecy’

Israel was always cognizant of the special presence of God among them.  God dwelt among them when they travelled in the wilderness and God took up residence in the Tabernacle.  This was by God’s design and at least in my mind indicates the primary way in which God wants to dwell; i.e., he wants to go with His people wherever they go.  However, Israel chooses to localize God and put Him in a box by constructing a temple.  God plays their game and grants their wish.  He had gone from being the God who went with them everywhere, to the God who must be gone to.  But the point is the same, that God chooses to dwell with His people.  Isaiah is the prophet who most forcefully expresses this dwelling in terms of the Holy Spirit.

10 Yet they rebelled
       and grieved his Holy Spirit.
       So he turned and became their enemy
       and he himself fought against them.

 11 Then his people recalled [a] the days of old,
       the days of Moses and his people—
       where is he who brought them through the sea,
       with the shepherd of his flock?
       Where is he who set
       his Holy Spirit among them
,

 12 who sent his glorious arm of power
       to be at Moses’ right hand,
       who divided the waters before them,
       to gain for himself everlasting renown,

 13 who led them through the depths?
       Like a horse in open country,
       they did not stumble;

 14 like cattle that go down to the plain,
       they were given rest by the Spirit of the LORD.
      
This is how you guided your people
       to make for yourself a glorious name
.”
(Isaiah 63:10-14)

Though Israel was blessed with this presence (and consequently abused it), they were also made to experience it’s loss.  Ezekiel 10 vividly portrays the departure of God’s glory from the temple.  Subsequent passages within Ezekiel’s work will reassure Israel that God’s presence will return to the people.  Ezekiel intentionally links this return of God’s presence with the bestowal of His Spirit (see all the Ezekiel passages referenced thus far in this short series).  He says in 37:27, “I will dwell among them and they shall be my people.”

The longing.  The hope.  The painful awareness that things are not as they should be.  Israel was a people desperate for God’s gracious action; his glorious new age; his awaited Messiah.  Ah how they longed for God’s future.  Oh that God might end the drought, that he might bless all people (though this hope was not readily embraced), that he might renew his covenant and restore his presence.  What a beautiful foundation for the message of the cross.  And the most shocking thing to me–the foundational role of the Holy Spirit in all that was to transpire.  A Person whom I have heard so little about. 

Next we will quickly note the obvious ways in which the New Testament picks up on these themes.

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new-covenant1

 

 

In addition to the pouring out of God’s Spirit on a dry and thirsty land and the radical inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God, Israel expected a renewal of the the covenant that God had made with them. 

 

 

 

Hear Jeremiah:

31 “The time is coming,” declares the LORD,
       “when I will make a new covenant
       with the house of Israel
       and with the house of Judah.

 32 It will not be like the covenant
       I made with their forefathers
       when I took them by the hand
       to lead them out of Egypt,
       because they broke my covenant,
       though I was a husband to them, ”
       declares the LORD.

 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
       after that time,” declares the LORD.
       “I will put my law in their minds
       and write it on their hearts.
       I will be their God,
       and they will be my people.

 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
       or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’
       because they will all know me,
       from the least of them to the greatest,”
       declares the LORD.
       “For I will forgive their wickedness
       and will remember their sins no more.”
(Jer. 31:31-34)

The prophet clearly indicates that the reason for the new covenant had nothing to do with some inherent deficiency with the first, but rather with the deficiency of the people.  Consequently, the new covenant will be one in which the people are moved by God to keep his laws–laws which are written on the heart.  Though Jeremiah does not mention the Spirit explicitly, Ezekiel emphasizes His role dramatically. 

26 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.(Ezek. 36:26-27)

The drought of the Spirit.  The inclusion of Gentiles.  The renewed covenant.  Most of you are already thinking of New Testament passages.  But before we move forward, we must consider one more foundational hope–God’s restored presence among the people.

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       “And afterward, brotherhood1
       I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
       Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
       your old men will dream dreams,
       your young men will see visions.

       Even on my servants, both men and women,
       I will pour out my Spirit in those days
(Joel 2:28-29).

Jews who were well versed in the Old Testament were consciously aware that God had great things in store for the Gentiles.  Indeed, Abraham had been told that blessings would flow through him to all people (Jews and Gentiles).  So again, to follow the present line of thinking in Jewish eschatology, whenever the Spirit was poured out upon all people, a Jew would be able to affirm that God’s new age had indeed arrived.  This may be the world’s shortest post, but I simply highlight this brief point to show yet another aspect of Israel’s hope.  Next we will consider the third basic foundation for their eschatology; namely, the renewal of God’s covenant.

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droughtTHE DROUGHT OF THE SPIRIT

Many Jews at the time of Jesus believed themselves to be living through a drought of God’s Spirit.  The common belief was that the prophetic Spirit had been removed from Israel.  A note from history will suffice to substantiate this claim.  After Judas Maccabeus reconsecrated the Temple after the Maccabean revolt, they did not know what to do with the stones from their desecrated altar (upon which unclean animals had been offered).  Their response was to put them “in a convenient place on the temple hill UNTIL A PROPHET SHOULD COME to tell them what to do with them” (1 Macc. 4:46).  Now, I do not claim to know whether or not and to what extent God was still exercising His influence through prophets.  It appears to me, in agreement with the basic Jewish claim, that God had refrained from doing so on the same scale as He had in the past.  Whether or not this is absolute, I cannot say.  Josephus, for example, speaks of prophetic activity among the Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls also speak of the experience of the Spirit among the Qumran community.  What I do know is that there was eager expectation that God would bring an end to this drought by pouring out His Spirit upon His people.

Consider a few examples from the Old Testament:

  • God says to His people in exile, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezek. 36:25-27).
  • The famous “Valley of Dry Bones” in Ezekiel portrays the end of the drought dramatically.  “The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”  I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”  4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath [a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’ ” 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.  9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. 11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ “
  • 14 The fortress will be abandoned,  the noisy city deserted; citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever,  the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks, 15 till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field,  and the fertile field seems like a forest. 16 Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field. 17 The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. 18 My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. 19 Though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely, 20 how blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, 
    and letting your cattle and donkeys range free
    ” (Is. 32:14-20).
  • See also especially Ezek. 39:29; Is. 44:3-4; Joel 2:28

The major interpretive dilemma here is that many of these promises seem to look forward to Israel’s reconstitution as a people in their homeland–a feat which God was to accomplish very soon (a total of 70 years to be exact).  I must confess my own inadequacies on some of these questions, but at the same time believe I can point to some clues that will go a long way toward solving some of them (again, only some of them).  But I’m running ahead of myself.  For now I simply want to trace the expectation and hope at the time of Christ as rooted in Israel’s scriptures, especially in relation to the role of God’s Spirit.  Next we will consider the radical notion of Gentile acceptability as part of the new age expectation.

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